Just two weeks now before I head off for a touring holiday in Jordan and Egypt, accompanied by my two best friends – I was going to say my two oldest friends, and whilst that might actually be correct, it doesn’t sound right.
I have an expanding walking pole for the rough terrain we are promised, a pair of hideous and very cheap plastic sandals for the Dead Sea (apparently it has a rocky bottom), a super-light day pack, and a cashmere shawl for cold desert nights when we camp in a tent, and a light scarf to throw over my head whenever it is needed. We are all a bit apprehensive about all those narrow steps down inside the tombs. I have been practising and have managed over 130 steps most days. I think it is the dark rather than the number that will prove the challenge. We have said to each other we will do what we can!
The best use of too many tomatoes is to make some sort of sauce or passata for use in winter. Simplest is to skin them, squeeze out most of seeds and roughly chop. Cook in a stockpot with some salt and when they have become a lovely mush, allow to cool, transfer to sealable freezer containers and freeze. I tip these frozen tomato iceblocks directly into casserole pots or soup pots, or else simmer and reduce in a frying pan with various additions such as a bit of red wine or sherry vinegar or capers, to make speedy pasta sauces. It is more fiddly to store the tomatoes in sealed jars as the sterilizing and sealing of the jars must be done properly.
Once you have made lots of sauce, here are a few other ideas for your abundant tomato crop!
Fill small blind-baked pastry cases with chunky, well-seasoned, garlickly, fresh tomato sauce that has been reduced until thick. Add some roasted peeled sweet peppers, if available. Stir in freshly chopped basil and warm for 5 mins in an oven set at 220degC. Serve topped with creme fraiche or soft fresh goat's cheese and a dollop of tapenade.
The quality of the tomatoes, sherry vinegar and oil is what makes a splendid rather than ordinary gazpacho. Find my recipe in The Cook's Companion book or App.
Reheat oven to 120°C. Fit a metal rack over a baking tray. Arrange tomato halves on rack, cut-side up. Brush with a generous quantity of oil, then sprinkle with salt, pepper and basil. Bake for 4–5 hours until tomatoes have shrunk and edges are shrivelled.
Sauce Vierge for Fish
Season diced ripe tomato with salt, pepper and a little wine vinegar and add a generous quantity of herbs and an even more generous quantity of barely warmed extra-virgin olive oil. Serve as a sauce with grilled fish. I like it spooned over fried eggs!
Fried Green Tomato
Dip thickly sliced green tomato into lightly whisked egg and then polenta and fry in EVOO until golden and crunchy. Great with anchovies, bacon or sausages, or just as they are.
The Cook’s Companion App and book.
Recently, I asked my social media community what crops were overflowing in their garden. And it seems that many of your gardens are abundant with zucchini! Tending a kitchen garden has wonderful benefits, however sometimes a certain vegetable or fruit comes into season and suddenly we have too much of a good thing! Once you have exhausted your repertoire of dishes for that particular ingredient, and neighbours and friends are well stocked with gifted produce, what then? I’ve put together some ideas and suggestions for your zucchini stockpile.
I will be working on some more guides like these in the future. If you have any questions or suggestions, please email me at email@example.com
Toss paper-thin slices of zucchini with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and gently mix with rocket leaves or freshly chopped herbs. Shave over a little parmesan or ricotta salata and serve with bagna cauda (anchovy dipping sauce).
Zucchini and Pea Pasta Sauce
Saute sliced zucchini in extra-virgin olive oil until lightly coloured, then toss in a handful of torn basil leaves and a generous qty of boiled, buttered peas and cream (allow 1-2 tablespoons cream for each cup of peas). Grind on pepper, toss with cooked pasta and serve with parmesan cheese.
Giant Zucchini Cake
Based on a recipe from the late Roger Verve, the Cook's Companion features a recipe perfect for that monster zucchini that grew when your back was turned - like this one grown in St Michael's College Primary kitchen garden! See the Cook's Companion book or App for the full recipe.
Slow Cooked Zucchini
Most zucchini are cooked lightly so they retain a little texture. This dish is a contrast, with the vegetable becoming soft and yielding - a good reminder that there is always more than one way of doing things. Find the full recipe in the Cook's Companion book or App.
Zucchini Flower Stuffings
Stuff zucchini flowers with finely chopped bocconcini tossed with mashed anchovy fillets; finely chopped mortadella sausage mixed with garlic, breadcrumbs, parsley, parmesan and drops of extra-virgin olive oil to make a paste; or very fresh ricotta cheese mixed with finely chopped spinach or silver beet and seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
The Cook’s Companion App and book.
Refreshed and relaxed after my holiday I have returned to a riot of colour in my garden. The pink of the agastache and the dusty-salmon eupatorium are magnificent and thrusting 1.5 metres high, spiked here and there with deep-blue salvia, and the silvery tasselled tops of the grasses. I will have to hurry to make a final batch of pesto as the basil is starting to go to seed. Already there is a sense of the season changing. On my walk this morning the air was cool and there was a strong scent of damp eucalyptus.
Since returning home I have welcomed the opportunity to catch up with friends and family, to eat some memorable dishes, even some I have cooked myself, and to attend events. Most recently I made two visits to the National Gallery of Victoria to admire the very varied special works that are part of the NGV Triennial. I urge any art lover to visit the NGV International to enjoy some amazing art. The Triennial continues until mid-April so there is time to plan for it.
Romantic desserts usually seem to involve chocolate, berries or both! Here are a few favourites, from my sister Diana’s famous chocolate cake, to a fresh tasting strawberry shortcake. I claim to be the first restaurateur to host a Valentine’s Day menu in Melbourne, more than 20 years ago in 1986. I searched my archives and found the original handwritten menu! You can read it in my book, The Cook’s Table, which also features a contemporary romantic menu suitable for any occasion with your loved one.
Diana's Fudgy Chocolate Cake
My sister introduced this winner to the family repertoire and she serves it with a dark chocolate ganache and thick cream.
Red, ripe strawberries are superb sliced and piled into a hot, buttered shortcake and eaten with thick cream. Click for recipe.
Chocolate Chiffon Tart
This superb recipe contains no butter or cream in the filling, and is much more enjoyable to eat than those tarts filled with pure ganache. Click for recipe.
Berry Sponge Cake
The addition of mashed strawberries to the icing & cream filling in Jackie's Mum's Sponge Cake (recipe in the Cook's Companion) gives this dessert a Valentine's hue. Bake in a heart shaped pan to reinforce the romantic message!
Fudgy Chocolate Mousse
Always use very good chocolate to make this recipe! I like to dust quenelles of mousse with the best Dutch cocoa and serve with chilled cream. Find the recipe in the Cook's Companion.
Honey Wafers with Bruised Raspberries
These fragile honey wafers are based on a recipe that appeared in Stephanie’s Seasons, where they were teamed with a banana cream. They can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Excess batter will store well, covered, in the refrigerator for several days.
The Cook’s Companion App and book.
The Cook’s Table